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Auto, motorcycle racing leads the pack in spectator injuries: study

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Birmingham, AL — Foul balls, a missed basketball pass that goes into the stands, a hockey puck shot over the glass – these are all examples of how fans have been injured at sporting events. However, recent research has concluded that auto/motorcycle racing is “overwhelmingly” the most dangerous sport for spectators.

Focusing on injuries – some fatal – experienced by fans who attended sporting events in 2000 and later, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham reviewed two scholarly databases and used a popular internet search engine to compile a list of these incidents. Of the 181 cases they found, 123 occurred at auto or motorcycle races. Thirty-eight were fatal.

“You don’t expect to be injured when you attend a sporting event,” Amit Momaya, a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon in the UAB Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, said in a Nov. 29 press release. “You certainly don’t expect to die, yet there are any number of cases where spectators are injured, some fatally, at sporting events.”

Other sporting events where spectator injuries occurred included cycling (25), cricket (12), baseball (10) and hockey (eight). Of the fatalities, 17 happened at cycling events, four at hockey games, two at baseball games and one during a cricket event.

“Most of these injuries are ballistic in nature,” Momaya said in the release, “meaning the spectator was struck by something from the playing area, such as a ball, puck or vehicle.”

Momaya, a team physician for UAB’s athletic teams, said his interest in injuries at sporting events was piqued after reading about a young child who was struck by a foul ball at a professional baseball game. He discovered no previous studies had been conducted on the topic.

“Without data, there is no way to judge if spectator injuries are becoming more or less prevalent,” he said in the release. “There is no way to determine if more aggressive safety measures are warranted.”

The study was published online Oct. 31 in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.

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